The Perks of the Party-less

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The Perks of the Party-less

Find the answers to your burning COVID questions.

By Daniel Thomas

Oct. 14, 2020

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Illustration by Madeline Ham

Hi Readers,

As one of my professors commented recently, there’s a reason you should be patting yourself on the back. You’ve made it to October without the school being forced to close for rampant COVID-19 cases! If you’ve been following the coronavirus rates of other schools throughout the country, you know that there are many other colleges which were not able to make it through their first week, while others are trudging along despite shockingly high numbers of COVID cases on campus. 

 

I know we’re all exhausted from witnessing the volleys of statistics regarding the severity of the coronavirus. This week, I’ll be answering the pandemic-and-general-illness-related questions I’ve received.

 

If you’re looking for advice or are just curious about the lived experience of a redhead from the D.C. area, please continue to email me at daniel.thomas@my.wheaton.edu or use the link at the bottom of the article to submit questions of your own for future articles. Happy reading!

Hi Lovesick,

 

I get that you’re worried about being noticed while hiding half of your face behind a mask. However, the chances of your CFA seeing you are even less likely if you’re quarantined in East Campus for contracting COVID. Keep your mask on.

 

There are other reasons to wear that mask proudly, however. Mounting research suggests that mask-wearing may make you more attractive in the eyes of your peers. This is due to the positive effect of facial symmetry on an individual’s perceived attractiveness. 

 

Don’t believe me? Have you ever noticed how a celebrity seems more alluring when wearing sunglasses? That’s the attractive power of symmetry at work. 

 

The face-concealing nature of masks also contributes to heightened appeal as they add a layer of mystery to those who wear them. Is your CFA smiling at you from a distance, or are they just minding their own business and you’re making something out of nothing? The uncertainty of whether someone is into us makes them more desirable in our eyes. In fact, a 2020 study discovered that people are more attracted to images of partially obscured faces than images of fully visible faces. 

 

Because of these phenomena, not wearing a mask might actually be a disservice to your dating game. Wear a mask!

 

Hi Homebody,

 

Predicting Wheaton’s future success at containing COVID-19 is tricky. The first issue is a direct result of the school’s small student body and its proportional resources for quarantining ill students. A non-compliant student on Wheaton’s campus will have a higher individual impact than a non-compliant student at a larger school. Wheaton cannot sustain the soaring levels of COVID-19 cases that big state schools are reporting (at present, the University of Alabama has more than 2,500 positive tests among students, faculty and staff, and yet the university is continuing to hold in-person classes). While the actions of a handful of rogue members at larger schools can be discouraged but largely ignored, Wheaton does not have the same luxury.

 

While you’re right that Wheaton is devoid of Greek Life and is largely without “parties,” the college’s focus on building intentional community has historically encouraged frequent and large-scale gatherings. That these gatherings are relational and spiritual in nature means little in the context of contracting a virus; whether your wild moves are from a sick beat or being compelled by the Spirit makes no difference to COVID-19.

Hi Calpurnia,

 

You’re not alone in finding yourself challenged by people who refuse to wear masks and wish that you wouldn’t wear one either. Spending time with a friend shouldn’t mean – in the context of COVID or otherwise – that you put yourself in an uncomfortable and potentially risky position. Communicating firm requirements for interaction is the clearest way to go about resolving this problem (but it can also be the most uncomfortable). 

 

Unfortunately, fully respecting someone’s anti-mask sentiments by removing yours in their presence cannot be reconciled with your desire for maintained safety levels if you’re visiting them in a small space. That leaves you with a choice. Do you avoid the friend, or do you try to persuade the friend to think differently about mask-wearing?

 

Before beating someone over the head with a collection of articles on COVID precautions, it’s important to understand why they might be anti-mask. One of the biggest challenges to mask wearing is that we all have a natural desire to establish control during this crazy time. When we’re overstimulated by situations such as the virus, the upcoming election and the already high-stress experience of being a Wheaton student, we enter into a fight or flight mentality, also known as a hypervigilant adrenal situation

 

One way that some seek to establish control is by refusing to wear masks, but we also have a tendency to align ourselves with a particular group when we feel overwhelmed (think about the immediate Fischer vs. Smith-Traber sentiments that developed in the first few weeks of coming to Wheaton). This is a phenomenon known as cultural tribalism. Thanks to this primal instinct, asking your friend to change their stance on masks may seem like you’re asking them to betray the group that they have gravitated toward in this time of uncertainty.  

 

You can be respectful and compelling by approaching the mask situation from an “other-focused” perspective. Statistically, other-focused arguments are found to be more persuasive in encouraging mask-wearing behaviors than individual-focused arguments. 

 

One such example relates mask-wearing to alcohol consumption. An individual over the age of 21 is permitted to consume alcohol (unless they’re on Covenant), but one is not permitted to drive while intoxicated. This is because driving while intoxicated poses a risk to others. In the same way, mask-wearing is not only about individual health and safety; it is also enforced to protect the people the individual comes into contact with.

 

So if avoiding your friend or imposing strict guidelines on where and how you’ll allow them to interact with you seems too daunting, explaining your masking choice in the context of protecting others may be the best way to communicate respectfully when asked to remove your mask. I am wishing you luck, patience and compassion.

Hi Illness,

 

In the fall of my sixth grade year, after running a fever for about a week, I woke up one morning to find that I had wet the bed for the first time since the age of five. Once my obviously surprised and somewhat frustrated parents turned their attention back on me, rather than the bedding, they realized something was wrong. When spoken to, my responses came out as unintelligible gibberish. Seemingly overnight, I’d lost my ability to speak.

 

My mom took me to the doctor who asked me a series of questions, none of which I was able to coherently answer. Finally, he pointed to my mom and asked me if I knew her name. I slowly slurred the name “Emily,” and that’s when the doctor recommended my mom, Meleigha, take me to the hospital.

 

Because I was slipping in and out of awareness, my time in the hospital was thankfully the part of the process that I remember the least. Unfortunately, I had a brief spell of being fully cognizant just as I began to receive a spinal tap (also known as a lumbar puncture, in which a needle is inserted between the vertebrae to remove cerebrospinal fluid). 

 

After the spinal tap, my parents explained that they and some of the hospital staff had witnessed me having a seizure while on one of the hospital beds (leading them to theorize that my uncharacteristic bedwetting that morning had been the result of a previous seizure). 

 

From the results of the spinal tap, the hospital staff determined that I had contracted an Adenovirus which had been circulating around my school. While my friends had all recovered, I had developed viral meningitis (the inflammation of the fluids that surround the brain), which had evolved into encephalitis (the inflammation of the brain itself). The danger with encephalitis is that when the brain swells, it has very little room to move, thanks to the rigidity of the skull. Because of this, encephalitis can lead to the brain pushing downward on and eventually crushing the brainstem, resulting in death.

 

Luckily, with prompt medical treatment, my brainstem remained intact, and I went home a few days later, although it was several weeks before I returned to school and several months before I had the stamina to attend a full day of classes again. One thing that came out of experiencing encephalitis was my then-newfound fascination with the human brain, which geared me toward a future in studying psychology.

Hi Overwhelmed,

 

I think ambiverts like me are especially suited to the pandemic lifestyle. I find myself both looking forward to chatting with classmates and friends over Zoom and also to spending time working on my own creative projects. Staying productive in ways that aren’t necessarily tied to classes is a great way to feel like you’re doing something worthwhile without experiencing burnout. While I enjoy binging both “30 Rock” and “Third Rock from the Sun,” I found joy in co-leading a virtual DSG this summer, the kind I am leading again this year. Even applying to graduate school and thinking about the future right now is an exciting activity, so long as I don’t dwell on it to the point of making myself anxious. Finding things to keep busy that are also purposeful is the best way to beat insanity.

 

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Wheaton Record or Wheaton College.

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